What Is Verdict On Tide Secondary?

Read just about any pre-season assessment of Alabama football and there will be a question about the 2012 secondary. That is understandable. Two-time All-America Mark Barron and starting cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie have departed for the National Football League.

Mark Barron, Alabama's strong safety the past three years, and Dre Kirkpatrick, a two-year starter, were both first round draft choices, which adds to the importance of the losses.

The book on Alabama is that only one starter in the secondary returns from the 2011 national championship Crimson Tide team. Robert Lester is back for his third year as starting safety. Lester has been very good with 10 interceptions, including eight in 2010, his first year to start.

The Crimson Tide will be facing some outstanding quarterbacks in 2012, too, beginning with pre-season All-America Denard Robinson of Michigan when Bama meets the Wolverines on Sept. 1 in the Cowboys Classic in Arlington, Texas. Also ahead are Tyler Wilson of Arkansas, James Franklin of Missouri, Tyler Bray of Tennessee, and Zach Mettenberger of LSU.

It's well known that Alabama led the nation in all defensive statistics last year, including pass defense and pass defense efficiency. Pass defense is a function of more than just the secondary. The rush that is put on a quarterback and coverage underneath by linebackers factor in on pass plays. And overall defense puts the offense in a bind. Bama's defense allowed only 72.15 yards rushing per game last year. That will force a team into a lot of passing downs, and when a defense can play with near-certainty that a pass is in the offing, the defense has an advantage.

That is not necessarily good news. Bama lost its best pass rushers in men like Courtney Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower, and Nick Gentry, among the starters gone from the from seven.

Still, the secondary is the last line of defense, and must be rebuilt this year. It is not, however, a total remake.

First of all, the Tide still has Kirby Smart as defensive coordinator, Jeremy Pruitt coaching safeties, and – most important – Head Coach Nick Saban, who just happens to take personal responsibility for coaching cornerbacks.

Alabama's returning players include Dee Milliner, an upcoming junior who has 16 career starts. Bama almost always opens the game in a defense with either five or six defensive backs, which explains the number of cornerback starts last year. Menzie was ordinarily the nickel back and Milliner a true corner.

Milliner is best remembered for his interception and 35-yard touchdown return against Auburn last year, one of his three 2011 interceptions.

Moreover, Saban went out and recruited the nation's top two junior college cornerbacks, and brought them into Tuscaloosa in time to participate in spring practice. Deion Belue was particularly effective at cornerback in the spring, while Travell Dixon worked at corner, nickel, and dime positions.

Also returning with limited cornerback experience are cornerbacks John Fulton and Jabriel Washington. Bradley Sylve, who was a redshirt freshman last year, moved to cornerback in the spring.

Geno Smith will arrive with other freshmen for fall camp in August.

Alabama works its safeties as "left" and "right" in pre-season practices so that men will be able to play either strongside or weakside in games. Robert Lester has been the weakside, or free, safety the past two years and is expected to be there in 2012.

The expectation is that Vinnie Sunseri, who saw a good deal of playing time both in the secondary and on special teams last year as a freshman, will play alongside Lester at strong safety.

Other safety candidates include former prep All-America players Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and incoming freshman Landon Collins. Jarrick Williams and Nick Perry are also in the picture.

One can understand a "glass half empty" assessment of the 2012 Alabama secondary, but one can also bet that Saban isn't plagued by a case of the "poor me"s.

BamaMag Top Stories